Judge to release kids who reject dad, send them to camp
Pontiac — Three children at the center of a contentious Oakland County divorce case have been freed from juvenile detention, where they were ordered by a judge because they didn't want contact with their father, and are headed to summer camp.
But the status of the case beyond that remains unresolved.
Oakland County Judge Lisa Gorcyca on Friday ordered the two boys, aged 14 and 10, and their 9-year-old sister freed from Children's Village in Pontiac, where they had been held since June 24 after being found in contempt of court for refusing to see their father.
Gorcyca dismissed the contempt finding and set other conditions based on a request from the children's court-appointed attorneys and their father. All sought an alternative to the county juvenile facility, which routinely houses neglected youth or children charged with criminal offenses.
"...It is in their best interests for them to attend summer camp," Gorcyca said. "Children's Village is to facilitate this and their parents will be permitted to visit within camp rules."
The children were not present during the court hearing Friday. The case has garnered national attention and Gorcyca noted an initial one-sided account created "frenzied hysteria" with a misinformed public. She stressed it was an effort not to punish the children, but rather to protect them.
Gorcyca and others warned the family months ago that she was considering Children's Village as an alternative to the children living at home with their mother. Gorcyca wasn't the first. According to Oakland Circuit Court records, now-retired Judge John McDonald — while briefly supervising the case in 2011 — warned all parties the children do "not run the show" and said he would consider a change to custody if the situation did not improve.
On Friday Gorcyca also ordered the parents to share all costs of camp; remove any of the children's photos from social media; and participate in "parental alienation" counseling.
Gorcyca set a July 20 date to review the children's situation and determine what further steps may be taken to insure their safety and well-being.
Their mother, Maya Eibschitz-Tsimhoni, 40, had filed a complaint that their rights were being violated by Gorcyca. The mother and her ex-husband, Omer Tsimhoni, 45, divorced in 2011 after 16 years of marriage but have been involved a contentious legal battle over visitation, therapy and other matters involving the children, who have repeatedly refused to speak or even look at their father. Tsimhoni, a General Motors engineer, lives most of the year in Israel. His ex-wife is a pediatric opthalmologist.
During Friday's two-hour court hearing, attorneys who have been appointed for each of the children told Gorcyca they visited them in Children's Village this week and were doing fine, but want to return home to their mother. All the children said they have no plans to talk with their father, attorneys said.
Attorneys and the judge indicated they believed the mother has been responsible for the children's behavior. The mother, meanwhile, said she feared he would harm her and kidnap the children.
After Gorcyca's ruling, Eibschitz-Tsimhoni wept with her attorney outside the courtroom and exchanged hugs with several supporters who had unsuccessfully attempted to take protest signs into the hearing.
"I'm very happy," she told reporters. "Love comes with love. You can't terrorize love. You can't force love."
Eibschitz-Tsimhoni said she never opposed her ex-husband having a relationship with their children but attorneys said Friday they believe she has labored to turn them against him.
William Lansat, the children's initial court-appointed guardian and legal adviser, told Gorcyca: "She has done whatever you can to meddle, obstruct or ruin a loving relationship" that once existed between the children and their father. Lansat lamented it was going to take a lot more than two weeks (in Children's Village) "to undo five years of damage."
"You have to give her credit," Lansat said. "Whatever she did, she has been successful. She's been on a campaign and she had damaged the children."
Lansat noted that the mother spoke Hebrew to the children when in the presence of anyone monitoring the parents' behavior. He said therapy efforts involving five different professionals over the past five years failed when the children refused to leave their mother's car or in some cases, leave a waiting room to attend the session. They refused to speak or look at him, or eat food he had touched.
The children often wordlessly huddled together, signaling each other by tapping their feet "like Morse code," said Lansat, who described it as "cult-like" behavior.
On one outing with their father, they climbed a tree and refused to come down. When they finally did, they called 911 and accused their father of threatening them. Lansat ticked off a list of various efforts made to reconcile father and children — all suggestions proposed by their mother — including having a dog or neighbor present, or meeting in a neutral location. When Tsimhoni showed up to pick them up at their school to attend one session, they became hysterical.
All efforts have failed, he said.
"This is very, very sad," he said. "Their behavior has been frightening."
Lansat said while the children did not belong in Children's Village, under no circumstances should they be returned to their mother's care.
Tsimhoni was in Israel but participated in Friday's hearing by telephone. He said he understood Gorcyca's ruling and favored it.
His attorney, Keri Middleditch, said she planned to file for full physical custody of the children by their father but also fears that under the present situation, even if that is accomplished "they are going to run away."
Staff writer Lauren Abdel-Razzaq contributed.